Winold Reiss, 1886–1953, Langston Hughes, circa 1925. Pastel on drawing board. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of W. Tjark Reiss, in memory of his father, Winold Reiss
The Art of Winold Reiss: An Immigrant Modernist
On view from July 1 to October 9, 2022
This summer, the New York Historical Society presents an exhibition of the work of German-American artist Winold Reiss, spanning the fields of painting, drawing, graphic design, interior design and decorative arts. The Art of Winold Reiss: An Immigrant Modernistfrom July 1 to October 9, 2022, features 150 works of art, many on display for the first time, that demonstrate how the artist’s European modernist sensibility merged with his profound observations of American society to create a distinctive style who embraces his new home.
“Winold Reiss is a quintessentially New York artist: an immigrant sensitive to the nuances of cultural and artistic diversity, with a wide creative range and a bold graphic approach influenced by European modernism but stylistically all his own,” said Dr. Louise . Mirrer, president and CEO of New York Historical. “His intellectual and artistic curiosity took him to many places, but he always returned to New York, his chosen home. I hope this wonderful exhibition will bring renewed attention to an important but often overlooked artist whose the work says a lot about his time and ours.
Largely unknown today, Reiss (1886–1953) emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1913. Steeped in late 19th century German academic and artistic traditions, Reiss brought his mark of modernism to the United States , establishing a distinctive reputation and material presence. in the cultural landscape of New York. His work was often characterized by his avant-garde style in poster design, his awe-inspiring landscapes and artful portraits, his use of new materials for his interiors, and his bold graphic design in everything from magazines to restaurant products to by the furniture. Although New York became his base for most of his career, his curiosity led him to travel to the western and southern United States, Mexico and Europe, from where he always returned with new ideas and new influences. Reiss’ public popularity began during the 1920s when his portraits of the “New Negroes” in Harlem and his African-inspired drawings were enthusiastically received, as well as his portraits of indigenous peoples of the American Northwest and Canada. , many of which depicted the Far North. Railway timetables. His influential contributions to the modernization of public spaces through his distinctive restaurant, hotel and architectural design had a lasting impact on the pitch, though his life and work were largely forgotten in the years that followed.
The art of Winold Reiss takes the viewer through Reiss’ career chronologically in four sections. The first focuses on his work in the graphic design industry upon his arrival in New York. From 1914, Reiss designed graphic identities for his own studio and schools. These logos, advertisements, letterheads and early advertisements display his evolving design vocabulary – scrollwork, stylized garlands and silhouettes of flowers and foliage sprouting from cornucopias, baskets or flowerpots. This section also features Reiss’ early furniture designs, which are a modern take on the traditional southern German forms he observed in his youth, including a peasant-style chair and two dining chairs.
The second section highlights Reiss’ iconic portraits, particularly those of Harlem Renaissance figures like Zora Neale Hurston, one of the preeminent writers associated with the movement; Langston Hughes, the influential writer and poet who championed the importance of pride in African-American heritage; and Alain Locke, an important writer, scholar, and philosopher who was known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” This is the first time since 1925, when they were exhibited at the 135th Street Harlem Branch, New York Public Library, that these Harlem portraits have been exhibited as a group in New York. The exhibit also features paintings that depict ordinary individuals from the professional and working classes, providing a comprehensive look at 1920s New York, including The Librarian (1924-25), girl with blanket (circa 1925), Chinese woman in hairstyle (circa 1925-26), and Blond girl on a Brooklyn rooftop (circa 1925-26).
The next section of the exhibition focuses on Reiss’ reimagined public spaces, including apartment buildings, hotels and restaurants. As Reiss noted, “Restaurant and hotel interiors had to be altered to meet modern demands. People no longer want to eat in places where the color of brown sauce dominates the walls and the atmosphere. They want to drink their cocktails in a cheerful and warm setting where they can forget their daily worries. His innovative approach is evident in the sketches and finished products on display, such as his work on the Crillon, which showcased Reiss’ signature experimentation with bold colors, new materials, and decorative paint; and the Alamac Hotel, which opened to much fanfare in 1923 with rooms and two restaurants designed by Reiss.
The final section of the exhibition delves deeper into Reiss’ artistic process by showcasing the private studies that served as the basis for his public works, including large-scale murals. Many of these works testify that Reiss’ art, conceived in the privacy of his studio, often served as the backbone of the more public spaces he created throughout his career. Included is the dynamics City of the Future mural of the Longchamps restaurant (1936). Part of a series that has been installed in the restaurant’s ground floor lounge bar, the mural depicts Reiss’ futuristic vision of modern city life in the second half of the 20th century.
The art of Winold Reiss is curated by Marilyn Satin Kushner, Curator of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, and Debra Schmidt Bach, Curator of Decorative Arts and Special Exhibitions, with contributions from Wendy Nalani E. Ikemoto, Senior Curator of American Art. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated scholarly catalogue, published by D Giles Limited, including essays by Marilyn Satin Kushner, C. Ford Peatross, Jeffrey C. Stewart and Debra Schmidt Bach, and is available from the NYHistory Store. Private group tours exploring the exhibition can also be arranged.
Major support for this exhibition is provided by the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation. This project is also supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional support provided by Adeline and Myron Hofer, Tamar Weiss, Carol Marks and Tom Wirtschaft, and other generous people. The exhibition catalog is made possible by Incidentally: a program of the JM Kaplan Fund.
Exhibits at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Evelyn & Seymour Neuman Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with support from the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About the New York Historical Society
Discover 400 years of history through groundbreaking exhibits, immersive films, and thought-provoking conversations between renowned historians and public figures at the New-York Historical Society, New York’s premier museum. A great destination for history since 1804, the Patricia D. Klingenstein Museum and Library conveys the stories of the diverse populations of the city and country, expanding our understanding of who we are as Americans and how we have become. Always up to the challenge of bringing to light little or unknown stories, New-York Historical will soon inaugurate a new annex housing its Academy for American Democracy as well as the American LGBTQ+ Museum. These latest efforts to help shape the future by documenting the past join New York Historical’s DiMenna Children’s History Museum and Women’s History Center. Digital exhibitions, applications and our For the ages podcast allow visitors from around the world to dive deeper into the story. Join us on nyhistory.org or at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, instagram, Youtubeand tumblr.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this exhibit do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.